Environmental

Maine Modernizing State Mining Regulations

Maine Modernizing State Mining Regulations

 

On November 19, 2012, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced it was hiring a Michigan firm and Maine subcontractor to update state mining rules that have not been changed in decades. 

The Michigan firm, North Jackson Company, is an environmental and engineering firm located in the Marquette Mineral District.  The firm will work with the state DEP over the next 18 months to make changes and provide environmental insight to the mining rules that have not been changed in 20 years.  The changes are required by a bipartisan law passed by the state’s 125th Legislature. 

The North Jackson Company received a $175,000 contract because they have experience in mineral mining regulations.  They have also helped the state of Michigan make changes to their old mining rules.  The Maine subcontractor, S.W. Cole Engineering, Inc., with provide consulting in geotechnical engineering, Maine environmental regulations, and landscape information to the Michigan firm. 

DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho emphasized that minerals can be recovered in a way that is environmentally sound for the air, land and water—as long as the state’s minding rules are updated.

She also stated: “Our selection of partners with reputations for providing reliable technical information through rigorous science that allows their clients to make sound environmental management decisions demonstrates this process is one we take seriously. We look forward to working with the North Jackson Company and S.W. Cole as we undertake this important work together.”

After the legislature and DEP agreed to update mining rules, a large number of advertisements were sent to members of the National Mining Association and Interstate Mining Compact.  The North Jackson Company was selected because they were the most qualified. 

The updated rules will address surface water protection and waste rock management as well as ensure that all proposed mining operations prove financially reasonable environmentally and for state citizens. 

Commissioner Aho continued: “DEP’s promise is that as this process moves forward, it will be thoughtful and transparent and if mining activity is carried out in Maine as a result of these regulatory updates, it will be done in a responsible, respectful way that helps Maine and its citizens receive the benefits of the resource while also guaranteeing that environmental protections are upheld and subsequent remediation and closure is adequate.”

More information about the updates can be found on the websites of the Maine DEP, North Jackson Company, or S.W. Cole Engineering. 

Source: Maine Department of Environmental Protection

U.S. Carbon Emissions Fall to Nearly 20-Year Lows

U.S. Carbon Emissions Fall to Nearly 20-Year Lows

New figures show that, energy-saving technologies and a concerted effort in renewables have led to the overall reduction in climate pollution. This drops in climate pollution—even as the U.S. Congress fails to act on climate change in a broad spectrum—brings the United States more than halfway towards President Barack Obama’s goal.

The United States’ carbon dioxide emissions in 2012 fell to their lowest levels since 1994, according to various environmental reports.

Carbon dioxide emissions in the United States fell by 13% in the last five years, due to new energy-saving technologies and a two-fold increase in the practice of renewable energy resources, as confirmed by the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Commission for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

This reduction in climate pollution brings the United States more than halfway towards President Obama’s target of reducing emissions by 17% from 2005 levels over the next decade.

By the end of 2012, the United States’ emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases had fallen nearly 11% from the 2005 levels. This drop puts President Barack Obama in a better position to defend his environmental policies and achievements, which often go overlooked in the bitter realm of climate science. Moreover, such statistics may bolster America’s standing with global climate regulations.

Lisa Jacobson, acting President of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, said these findings exposed the conservative argument that acting on climate change would hinder the economy—carbon emissions are declining while GDP is rising.

The dramatic decrease in Carbon emissions is attributed to the country’s shift in energy production—Coal fell to 18% in 2012 from 22.5% in 2007 of the nation’s energy mix, and oil use also declined.

Thanks to fracking, natural gas production filled the majority of this gape—the United States received 31% of its electricity from gas-fired plants in 2012.

The report also noted that steadily expanding installations of solar, wind, hydro and geothermal energies have led to the significant drop in Carbon emissions. Renewables represented the largest source of new growth last year, reaching $44 billion.

Over this timeframe, total energy use fell by 6.4% since 2007. The bulk of emissions cut were largely due to installing more efficient cooling and heating systems in commercial locations. Other cuts in emissions came from transport, as 488,000 Americans purchased plug-in or hybrid vehicles.

This mix of energy sources proves that the economy can grow as our reliance on carbon-emitting gases declines.

New Investment in Small Modular Reactor Design and Use

New Investment in Small Modular Reactor Design and Use

 

On November 20, 2012, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced it was awarding support for the design and licensing of small modular reactors with the United States.  The strategy is parallel with the Obama Administration’s strategy to access every possible source of energy in the United States. 

The funding was announced in March of 2012, and the DOE has just announced the recipient of the award.  The project is led by Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) along with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel.  If strategies stay the same, the DOE plans to solicit other companies and manufacturers to focus on developing small modular reactor designs and operations. 

The investment from the DOE to B&W will help the company receive Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing requirements and begin commercial operations by 2022.  The small modular reactor project will first occur in Tennessee, but the DOE plans to help operations in Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  All of the projects will help U.S. utilities receive power from low carbon sources while increasing export opportunities and U.S. dominance in the world energy market. 

Secretary Chu stated: “The Obama Administration continues to believe that low-carbon nuclear energy has an important role to play in America’s energy future.  Restarting the nation’s nuclear industry and advancing small modular reactor technologies will help create new jobs and export opportunities for American workers and businesses, and ensure we continue to take an all-of-the-above approach to American energy production.” 

The recent projects stands as the first-ever government investment in the design, implementation, and licensing of small modular reactors.  The DOE will invest in about half of the project’s total cost through a five-year cost-share agreement.  Babcock & Wilcox will provide the other half of investment, but the specific amounts toward the project are still being decided by the DOE and B&W. 

Small modular reactors are about one-third the size of traditional nuclear power plants.  The smaller designs increase safety and offer more economically benefits over large nuclear plants.  Also, the small modular reactors can be manufactured at factories then transported to the sites were they can basically be plugged in.  The designs decreased capitol costs and construction costs for nuclear energy. 

Small modular reactors have other benefits as well.  Large reactors cannot be used on some small grids, while small modular reactors can provide power to small grids in a cost-effective way.  The reactors allow greater flexibility for utilities as demands grow. 

Source: Department of Energy

Environmental Protection Agency to Award $569 Million in Funding to Areas Impacted by Hurricane Sandy

Environmental Protection Agency to Award $569 Million in Funding to Areas Impacted by Hurricane Sandy

 

 
The United States Environmental Protection Agency announced that will provide grants of $340 million to New York and $229 million to New Jersey for improvements to drinking water treatment facilities that were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. These funds will help storm-ravaged communities in both states as they continue to rebuild and recover from the damage caused by the super storm on October 29th of last year. 
In the aftermath of the super storm, drinking water and wastewater treatment centers in New Jersey and New York were so badly damaged that some could not treat raw sewage or provide safe drinking water to their residents. The funding announcements will give states the ability to further reduce the risks of flood damage and increase the resilience of drinking water and wastewater facilities to withstand the effects of severe storms like Hurricane Sandy. 
 
“As communities continue to rebuild and recover following the storm, it is crucial that their efforts to rebuild infrastructures such as drinking water and wastewater facilities are approached in a sustainable manner,” said the EPA’s Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. “This money is a crucial step in the administration’s ongoing effort to provide aid to New Jersey and New York so they can recover and move forward in a way that ensures local communities are stronger than ever.”
 
“As extreme weather is increasingly becoming the norm, the United States Congress wisely provided these funds to make sure our drinking water and wastewater facilities can withstand storms the size of Hurricane Sandy,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judit Enck. “These funds will help vulnerable communities in New York and New Jersey become more resilient to the effect of weather change.”
 
The funds will be offered as grants to New York and New Jersey and roughly 40 percent of the funds will provided to New Jersey for both the Drinking Water and Clean Water Revolving fund programs. The determination of how the funds will be allotted to the states was based on the percentage of the population living in counties that were impacted by the storm. 
 
The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act provided the Environmental Protection Agency with $500 million for Clean Water Revolving Fund and $100 million for the Drinking Water Fund. 
 
 
Source: Environmental Protection Agency

United Kingdom Reaches Landmark Energy Policy Agreement

United Kingdom Reaches Landmark Energy Policy Agreement

 

On November 23, 2012, the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) reached a landmark decision to increase investor confidence and generate 250,000 jobs in the energy sector.  The decision, called the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) in the Energy Bill, will address electricity demands through low-carbon technologies in the United Kingdom as about 20 percent of the country’s generating capacity from conventional, carbon-based sources decrease over the next decade. 

The EMR hopes to give confidence to certain investors and create government contracts for about £110 billion in investments. 

The sections of the Energy Bill allow the following:

·   Create a government owned-company to give investors more confidence while investing in long-term contracts called “Contracts for Difference” for low-carbon electricity projects

·  Allows auctions for generating capacity from 2014 for the winter of 2018/2019 to make sure peak demand is addressed

·  Provides confidence to gas investors to make sure energy demands are addressed (Gas Generation Strategy published with Chancellor’s Autumn Statement)

·  Sets a target range for reducing carbon emissions by 2030

The UK’s Climate Change Committee will make suggestions in 2016 during the Fifth Carbon Budget to make sure target ranges are reached by 2030.  Until 2016, the government is providing tips to National Grid for different ways to reach lowered emissions ranges by 2030 and even reach target ranges by 2050 in the most economical way.  A sample approach for the UK 2050 carbon target is explained in the Fourth Carbon Budget. 

Edward Davey, the Energy and Climate Secretary, stated: “They [the Coalition Agreement decisions] will allow us to meet our legally binding carbon reduction and renewable energy obligations and will bring on the investment required to keep the lights on and bills affordable for consumers.” 

The decarbonization targets were set by the Climate Change Act of 2008.  Together with the decarbonization targets and government-issued contracts, about £9.8 billion in 2020 prices is set aside in the Levy Control Framework.  The budgeted investment by the government will decrease dependency on gas imports by establishing renewable energy.  By 2020, about 30 percent of the UK’s energy will come from renewables—compared to 11 percent in 2012.  The investment will also ensure power from new nuclear energy and commercialized carbon capture. 

Davey continued, “The decisions we’ve reached are true to the Coalition Agreement, they mean we can introduce the Energy Bill next week and have essential electricity market reforms up and running by 2014 as planned.”

The shift in public spending by the government, referred to as the Levy Control Framework (LCF), is the responsibility of the Treasury.  The spending meets energy and climate goals in line with economic recovery and the least impact on utility bills for consumers.

The spending does not include the ECO or the Warm Homes Discount in the UK.  These programs have separate spending limits for 2015. 

Source: Department of Energy & Climate Change

President Obama Responds to Devastating Tornados in Oklahoma

President Obama Responds to Devastating Tornados in Oklahoma

 

 
At least 24 people, including nine schoolchildren, were killed when a massive tornado hit an area outside Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon. 
 
At least seven of the children killed were students at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma. Emergency respondents today continued to sift through the school’s rubble in search of any survivors. 
 
The devastating tornado was 1.3 miles wide and move through Moore with winds that reached nearly 215 miles per hour. 
 
In response to the devastation, President Barack Obama told Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin that the administration, through FEMA, is committed to providing all the resources it can to the state of Oklahoma as the response effort unfolds. FEMA has already deployed an incident Management Assistance Team, a Medical Emergency Response Support Team and a number of Search & Rescue Teams to provide resources in those areas hit hardest by the natural disaster. 
 
FEMA is urging those in damaged areas to listen to instructions from their local school officials, and to take the recommended protective measures to stay safe. 
 
“Americans from every corner of this nation will be right here with the victims of this tragedy. We will open our homes and our hearts to those in need,” President Obama said. “We are a country that stands with our fellow citizens as long as the rebuilding process takes; we have seen this spirit in Joplin, in Tuscaloosa; and we saw this spirit in Breezy Point and Boston. This is what the people of Oklahoma are going to require from us right now.” 
 
As recovery and response efforts continue in Oklahoma, the United States Department of Homeland Security announced today that Secretary Janet Napolitano will travel to the devastated area tomorrow to meet with local and state officials to ensure first responders are receiving the resources they need to help those impacted by tornadoes. 
 
 
Source: whitehouse.gov

Awards Aim to Reduce Pollution to Pacific Ocean

Awards Aim to Reduce Pollution to Pacific Ocean

 

On October 10, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that $214,000 in grants is being provided to the Product Stewardship Institute, Inc. and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in order to reduce the amount of debris entering the oceans.  
 
The Product Stewardship Institute, Inc. is receiving $164,245 in order to begin a study on how to reduce disposable plastic packaging.  The study will occur on three California coastal universities.  The hope is to use the results to develop a model for other universities and fast-food corporations.  
 
The Product Stewardship Institute, Inc. is working to reduce single-use plastic bottles by 40 percent and polystyrene take-out containers often used by fast-food restaurants, dining halls, and student centers by 80 percent.  
 
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is receiving a $50,000 grant to train 100 teachers and 7,500 students to then lead local community projects that reduce the amount of plastic entering the ocean.  The grant will train K-12 teachers and teach the students about the causes and effects of plastic in the ocean.  The community action projects will then address coastal watersheds.  
 
The two projects are targeting plastics that enter waterways in parts of California that eventually gather or disintegrate and pose direct hazards to fish and other wildlife.  The EPA points to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” as an example of what plastic pollution can do.  
 
The patch is two huge areas of floating plastic in the North Pacific.  The patches are made up of various forms of litter and debris like old fish nets and various plastic components.  The majority of plastic is in the form of tiny segments that has been broken down through a process called photodegradation.  
 
Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest, states: “Reducing waste at the source, rather than just cleaning it up, is the key to protecting our coastal waters.  These two projects are big steps forward to reducing the amount of trash that ends up in our rivers, oceans, and estuaries.” 
 
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Natural Gas Company Pays $84,506 for Violations

Natural Gas Company Pays $84,506 for Violations


Natural gas companies continue to receive penalties and fines even though the majority of states have begun to impose strict policies for natural gas production.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s latest imposed penalties involve Atlas Resources LLC.  On October 18, 2012, the EPA announced that Atlas Resources must pay a fine of $84,506 for air and hazardous chemical violations at the natural gas production facility located in Avella, Pennsylvania.  


Atlas Resources is charged with violating the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) which is a federal law that requires responders to know about toxic chemicals in the surrounding communities.  Knowing about hazardous chemicals in the community helps responders plan for an emergency.  


Atlas Resources also violated the Clean Air Act by failing to take steps to decrease the accidental release of different hazardous chemicals.


According to the EPA, Atlas Resources failed to provide state and local responders of the hazardous chemicals on the production facility in both 2008 and 2009.  When the site was investigated, it was found that Atlas Resources was not storing the natural gas correctly onsite.  After testing, it was found the production wells were releasing vapors.  


The company was ordered to stop operations and the production of natural gas until audits are completed at eight other production facilities in Washington County.  The audits are checking to make sure the other facilities have the proper equipment installed to stop air releases.  


The Atlas Resources facilities that are being audited in Washington County are located in the Hopewell Township and Cross Creek Township.  The audits have adopted revised New Source Performance Standards as well as revised National Emission Standards that address the release of air pollutants.  


The majority of gas released during the extraction and production of natural gas is methane.  


Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Results of 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey Released

Results of 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey Released


The Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently released the results of the 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey that measured and studied organic crops in different states.  The study helps the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s (NASS) Risk Management Agency make changes to federal crop insurance products that are used by organic farmers.  


Hubert Hamer, the Chairperson of the NASS Agricultural Statistic Board, states: “This is the first time we have conducted a survey focused solely on the USDA-certified organic producers.  With this survey’s results, policymakers will be able to better assess the Federal Crop Insurance program and its impact on the organic industry.”  


According to the study, over $3.5 billion worth of organic products were grown in 2011.  Corn still leads in the organic industry, for about $101.5 million of organic corn was sold in 2011.  Other leaders in the organic industry included alfalfa dry hay and winter wheat.  About $69.5 million of organic alfalfa dry hay was sold in 2011, and about $54 million of organic winter wheat was sold.  


The state with the most organic acres is Wisconsin—with over 110,000 organic acres.  New York was second with over 97,000 acres of organic harvest, and California fell shortly behind New York with over 91,000 acres of organic harvest.  


The study also examined organically raised livestock.  Organically raised livestock generated $1.31 billion in sales in 2011, and organic milk was the top commodity, accounting for about $765 million in sales.  The other leading commodities in this category included organic chicken eggs and broiler chickens.  Organic chicken eggs generated about $276 million in sales, and organic broiler chickens generated about $115 million.  


Organic crops accounted for about 63 percent of all organic products.  Livestock and poultry products accounted for about 30 percent, and livestock and poultry inventory accounted for about 8 percent.  


Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Seven TN Water and Wastewater Taking Serious Initiatives

Seven TN Water and Wastewater Taking Serious Initiatives


On October 11, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) announced and recognized the initiatives of seven drinking water and waste water utilities throughout the state.  Some of the facilities have already begun improvements, and four of the utilities have already saved about 3,300,000 kilowatt hours and reduced 3200 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.


The utilities and their estimated energy and cost savings per year are listed below:


-Caryville-Jacksboro Utilities Commission 188,000 kWh / $15,750
-City of Columbia 1,300,000 kWh / $100,000
-Fayetteville Public Utilities 517,000 kWh / $34,000
-City of Franklin 1,699,440 kWh / $194,000
-First Utility District of Knox County 710,000 kWh / $68,000
-Lenoir City Utilities Board 523,000 kWh / $42,000
-Nashville Metro Water Services 2,400,000 kWh / $210,000


The active improvements and the planned improvements will save more than 7 million kilowatt hours a year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 6,696 tons—a figure equivalent to bringing 1,190 cars off the road or providing power to about 739 homes.  Each facility is projected to save between $15,750 and $210,000 per year with an approximate combination of $633,750 in savings.  


The facilities now making improvements participated in assessments and workshops in order to determine how to reduce the overall amount of energy use.  Some of the facilities took simple initiatives like installing solar panels, while others made more sophisticated improvements like reducing the amount of UV disinfection and more.  


TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau stated, “Today’s gathering is a great example of how government partnerships can work together and we’ve been pleased to help provide these communities with energy efficiency tools, expertise and support for Tennessee’s water and wastewater utilities—assisting them in reducing costs and environmental pollution, while saving money and benefiting their ratepayers.”


Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency